Normally, shoplifting that occurs in Pennsylvania is prosecuted as a state crime, with cases tried by the local Court of Common Pleas. Under certain circumstances, however, what begins as a state-level retail theft crime can escalate to become a serious violation of federal law. The key distinction in most cases is not where the crime is committed; it's where the stolen property goes afterward.
Crossing State Lines With Stolen Goods Invites Federal Charges
The federal crime of transportation of stolen goods applies where stolen goods with a retail value of more than $5000 are “unlawfully” transported across state lines. Obviously, in the petty shoplifting context, this is unlikely to apply, but it is also not unusual for individuals, or groups working together, to steal thousands of dollars' worth of goods at a time from high-end fashion and technology stores. If they then transport those stolen goods across state lines for whatever reason – to resell them, to take them home, even to throw them out because of fear of getting caught – that's a violation of federal law.
This is also the case if the stolen goods have been taken over the course of a number of store visits. If a defendant accumulates more than $5000 worth of stolen goods thanks to many successful retail thefts, then transports all those goods across a state line, which also violates the federal law against the transportation of stolen goods.
Receiving or Selling Stolen Goods That Have Crossed State Lines is Also a Federal Crime
A defendant who receives or sells stolen goods worth more than $5000 that have crossed a state line after being stolen also violates federal law, provided the defendant knew the goods were stolen at the time the defendant received or sold them.
Here too, it doesn't matter how many individual thefts took place to accumulate the stolen goods. If their market value totals $5000 or more, and they were moved across state lines, and the defendant who receives them or sells them knows they were stolen, that person is liable and faces the same penalties as the person who transported the stolen goods across state lines.
Penalties for Transportation, Possession, or Sale of Stolen Goods Are Severe
A defendant convicted of transportation, possession, or sale of stolen goods faces fines and up to 10 years in prison.
Special Laws for Insider Theft of Medical Products
When we think of shoplifting, we usually think of the theft of products from retail store shelves. Sometimes, however, retail products are stolen before they reach the store; for example, from warehouses or retail storage rooms. Where the goods stolen are drugs, medical devices, specially-formulated medical foods, or infant formula, the theft of these products before they reach the retail shelves is also a federal crime with serious penalties even where the value of the stolen goods is less than $5000.
The federal Theft of Medical Products law applies where the defendant uses any “means or facility of, interstate or foreign commerce” and steals or buys, transports, or sells a stolen “pre-retail medical product.” By “pre-retail,” the law means that the product has not yet reached the consumer store shelves. The “medical product” includes, as noted, drugs, medical devices, medical foods, and infant formula.
Penalties for Violations of the Theft of Medical Products Law
A defendant convicted of violating the Theft of Medical Products Law faces civil penalties of up to $1 million (or alternatively “three times the economic loss attributable to the violation”). In addition, the court can impose a fine as well as a prison term of up to 15 years if the value of the stolen goods is more than $5000, or up to 3 years if the value is less.
Conspiracy Laws Apply
As with most federal crimes, if a defendant is working with someone else to transport stolen goods across state lines, receive or sell stolen goods that have crossed state lines, or steal or sell medical products, those persons can be charged with Conspiracy to commit the underlying crime in question.
The federal Conspiracy statute covers almost any federal crime and applies when two or more people work together to commit a federal crime, and at least one of those people takes at least one step to make the crime happen. Defendants convicted of Conspiracy can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison for the conspiracy charge alone.
Defenses to Federal Stolen Goods Crimes
Potential defenses to Transportation of Stolen Goods charges include that the goods were being transported across state lines in order to return them to their rightful owner, which is not considered “unlawful” transport under the law. Another potential defense is that the defendant did not know the goods were stolen; the law requires that the defendant transport the stolen goods “knowing the same to have been stolen.” That same “lack of intent” defense also applies where the defendant is accused of holding or selling stolen goods that have crossed state lines; if the defendant didn't know the goods were stolen, the defendant has not committed that crime.
Similarly, it is a defense to the Theft of Medical Products law if the defendant did not know the stolen medical products were stolen, which of course, is possible where a defendant was not involved in the original theft but may have been involved in a later attempt to move or sell the stolen goods.
Finally, a common defense against Conspiracy charges is that, while the defendants may have been planning to commit a crime, none of them took any steps to accomplish the plan.
You Need a Strong Defense to Federal Theft Charges
If you are being investigated or have been charged with any federal crime, including ones involving theft or transportation of stolen goods across state lines, you should immediately seek the advice of a skilled federal criminal defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento has years of experience defending those charged with federal crimes in Pennsylvania. He and his team of dedicated attorneys at the Lento Law Firm will help you mount the strongest defense possible to the charges the government has against you. Call Joseph D. Lento today at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to reach out to the team at the Lento Law Firm.